Mastermind, a codebreaking game invented by an Israeli telephone technician in 1970, is a tabletop game for two people. You probably already know how to play it, since tens of millions have been sold since then.
A Vice article titled, "The Mysterious Origins of Mastermind, the Codebreaking Board Game" explores the origin of the game and the mysterious appeal of the box illustration, which didn't even show the game:
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Adorning the original Mastermind box was the portrait of a woman, dressy and unimpressed, leaning behind an older gentleman, suited and seated, fingertips pressed. Or, to defer to the commentators of the era:
“a slinky female and a mysterious chap” (Les Gelber, president of Invicta’s American branch
“an aloof, bearded, red-headed man and [an] Eurasian beauty. The arts editor asked me who they were…. He said he knew and it would be important to the story” (Patricia Rice, St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
“Clearly he thinks you will never crack his secret code…. will she too sneer at your failure, or perhaps be impressed with your success? [They] represent the rich international power elite who control much of the destiny of nations; or, more abstractly, the powerful forces threatening and to some extent controlling our lives. By playing Mastermind and solving the hidden code, one is symbolically outsmarting such people or forces, thereby compensating for the virtual inability most of us have to control the real world around us.” (Leslie Ault)
Those powerful forces were Cecilia Fung and Bill Woodward; respectively, a computer science student at the University of Leicester, and the owner of a chain of Leicester hair salons known locally as “Mr.
From the Dungeon Masters Guild:
Eat the Rich is a collection of explicitly anticapitalist adventures for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. Each original adventure dives into classic D&D tropes, and puts a new spin on them. Tackling issues of workers’ rights, health care, the prison industrial complex, the environment, animal rights, agriculture and more, these adventures will make you passionate to join the revolution.
Eat the Rich features 17 original adventures for tiers 1-4, in a 213 page colour PDF. Set in the Forgotten Realms, Ravnica, Eberron, or ready to be dropped into your own setting, the anthology features work by a global team of new and established designers and artists.
If you want to free the Goblins from the bonds of racial oppression and forge your dwarves together in an iron working union to face down the tyrannical production expectations of the rock giants, now's your chance.
Eat the Rich, Volume 1 [Dungeon Masters Guild]
Image: Huntleigh / Wikimedia Commons (CC 3.0) Read the rest
The online gaming portal, OnTableTop (formerly Beasts of War) is trying to establish February as "Snag-a-Normie" month. The idea is for tabletop gamers to try and bring their friends and family over to the dark side, to expand the hobby gaming community, and to find more players for yourself. As a life-long tabletop gaming enthusiast, I am all for this.
As my Snag-a-Normie contribution for the month, I thought I'd share a few ideas for what I think are great gateway games for getting newbies interested in tabletop miniature games, card games, and fantasy and sci-fi board games. These choices represent my particular interests, so this is far from a universal list. YMMV.
Wildlands - This 2-4 person board game with gorgeous ink-washed minis is easy to pick up and really gives players the feel of a dungeon delver without too much heavy lifting learning a lot of rules up front. Most of the action is card-driven. Here's my earlier review.
Keyforge - This card game is cheap to get into. Each player (2) needs a deck of cards and the rules are free online. Every deck is unique, so you're forced to learn to leverage the strengths of the deck you have (and to overcome its weaknesses). The rules can be a little fussy to understand at first, but once you get beyond that, it's pretty straight forward. My review.
Escape from the Dark Castle - My girlfriend is not a gamer, but we've played this dungeon-delving card game together and she loves it. Read the rest
Let the co-creator of Prime Climb explain how to play this fast-moving game of quickly changing fortunes. It's on sale today on Amazon. Read the rest
Blokus Duo is a fun strategy game for two people. Players take turns placing their tiles on a grid, making sure the tile touches another of the same color on a corner only. When no more tiles can be placed, the player with the fewest remaining pieces wins. Amazon has the game on sale now for Read the rest
Recently, I've found myself playing more games from small, independent game companies and those sold directly from the designers. Here are a few of these offerings currently on my radar, at my painting station, and on my tabletop. If you're looking for game-related gifts for the holidays, consider supporting these talented and hardworking indie creators.
Relicblade: Adventure Battle Game
Metal King Studios, $30 (basic hardbound rulebook), 2-4 players, Ages: 10+
Sean Sutter, the mastermind behind Relicblade, was kind enough to send me some of his Relicblade merch earlier this year. Throughout the year, I watched my tabletop gaming friends enthusiastically flinging themselves down the Relicbalde rabbit hole, but I only recently got around to my own swan-dive into these realms. I love games that are largely the vision of a single designer/artist. Kingdom Death Monster always comes to mind. Like that uncompromising vision of a game as a creative platform for an artist's self-expression (Adam Poots in its case), Relicblade is a gaming universe populated by the imagination of artist and designer Sean Sutter. Sean designs the game, does all of the artwork and book design, digitally sculpts the figures--all of it. He also produces videos that chronicle his design and manufacturing process. Looking at his product line, you'd be hard pressed to distinguish Sean's output from any major game publisher. Our modern world of on-demand publishing, small scale manufacturing, digital design and sculpting, 3D printing, and crowdfunding has created the near-ideal conditions for creators like Sean to be able to compete with much larger commercial concerns. Read the rest
Here is a collection of horrifying games to keep you entertained this Fall.
Call of Cthulhu Starter Set
Chaosium, Inc., $21.40
When I got the latest Call of Cthulhu Starter Set from Chaosium, I got all verklempt. After D&D, Call of Cthulhu was the next RPG I moved on to via the original Call of Cthulhu Starter Set. I loved that product, so I had great rushes of nostalgia unboxing this updated version. Mike Mason and Chaosium have done an excellent job creating a gateway, a hell-portal if you will, into the world of Cthulhu-based RPGing at a super affordable price. For under 22 bones, you get three saddle-stitched books, one that's an intro to the world of Cthulhu and includes a solo adventure to teach you the game, a basic rulebook, and a book with three starter adventures. You also get 5 ready-to-play investigators, blank character sheets, player hand-outs, and 6 RPG dice. It feels a little less substantial than the original (which included a thick, 100-page rulebook), but overall, it offers a satisfying and immersive introduction to Cthulhu gaming on the cheap.
Ravensburger, $35, 1-5 players, Ages 10+
As much as I enjoy the Lovecraft mythos and some of the zombie genre, I have to admit to being both bored and overwhelmed with how dominant these themes have become in the gaming hobby. So, I was thrilled to see Horrified, a cooperative horror strategy game featuring the Universal Studios monsters: Dracula, the Wolf Man, the Mummy, the Frankenstein monster, bride of Frankenstein, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Invisible Man. Read the rest
Werewolf is one of my favorite games. My daughter and I played it almost every night on the JoCo Cruise last year. It's normally $25, but Amazon has it on sale today for just: Read the rest
Escape from the Haunted Mansion is a massive, ambitious free papercraft project to download, print, mount on coreboard, cut out, assemble and play. I have no idea if the gameplay is any good, but the model is freaking gorgeous. It's from the good folks at Disney Experience, who have a wealth of papercraft Disney projects and other fan media for you to play with. (via Metafilter)
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Yesterday for Father's Day we went to the GameHaus Cafe in Glendale, California. Your town likely has a place like this - you can rent a table and play games from a large library. (GameHaus has about 1,500 games.)
Our favorite game of the day was Cryptid. It's a game of "honest misdirection" in which players try to figure out the exact location of a monster on a map. Each player is given a secret clue. A clue might say "The habitat is within three spaces of a green structure," or "The habitat is within two spaces of bear territory," or "The habitat is within one space of swamp." There is only one hexagon on the map that satisfies all the clues. It's a player's job to figure out what the other players' clues are by taking turns and asking them if a hexagon meets the conditions of their secret clue. The first player to correctly identify where the cryptid lives is the winner.
The game is different every time you play it, because the map can be put together in many different ways and landmarks can be placed on different hexagons. The game has a link to a website map- and clue-generator that makes it easy to set up the 6 pieces of the map and place structures (standing rocks and abandoned shacks) on specified hexagons. For the three of us, a game took about 30 minutes to play. We played twice and I'm probably going to buy it so we can play at home. Read the rest
Battletech: A Game of Armored Combat
BattleTech Beginner Box
Catalyst Games, $60 (core set), $20 (Beginner's Box)
Catalyst Games was kind enough to send me a bundle o' new BattleTech goodies. They sent the new BattleTech: A Game of Armored Combat (the core game), the BattleTech Beginner Box, the BattleMech Manual, and the Map Pack expansion.
The Beginner Box is positioned as a convenient and cheap way of getting people into the game at a third the price of the new core box. In the Beginner Box, you get 2 Mech miniatures and 8 cardboard standee Mechs. The stater rules are somewhat streamlined with no heat management/Heat Phase, no Internal Structure Diagram (ISD), and no torso movement. All of the movement and attack modifiers are retained from the original game. The rules still have those clunky and crunchy old-school mechanics under the hood, but like OGRE and Car Wars, for those of us with fond memories of this game, however cumbersome, that's maybe now part of its old-school charm.
The hardbound Mech Manual is lovely, well-designed, and laid out for easy reference. The Core Box comes with 8 beautifully sculpted Mech miniatures, a 56-page rule book, a 16-page Universe Primer, Pilot stat cards, a pad of Mech record sheets, two terrain maps, dice, and additional standees and terrain markers. The core system does retain the ISD, heat manangement, and torso movement rules. Both boxed sets also include novellas, which is kind of a nice way of immersing oneself, especially newbies, in the BattleTech universe before play. Read the rest
Amazon is having a sale on tabletop games today, and the one I recommend is the highly rated Pandemic, a cooperative game for 2-4 players.
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Four diseases have broken out in the world and it is up to a team of specialists in various fields to find cures for these diseases before mankind is wiped out. Players must work together playing to their characters' strengths and planning their strategy of eradication before the diseases overwhelm the world with ever-increasing outbreaks. For example, the Operation Specialist can build research stations which are needed to find cures for the diseases. The Scientist needs only 4 cards of a particular disease to cure it instead of the normal 5. But the diseases are out breaking fast and time is running out: the team must try to stem the tide of infection in diseased areas while also towards cures. A truly cooperative game where you all win or you all lose.
Shadows: Amsterdam (Libellud, 2-8 players, ages 10 and up) is the newest entry in the micro-genre (that includes Dixit and Mysterium) of “guess what the other people are guessing about ambiguous pictures” games.
The ambiguous pictures, in the case of Shadows, are a multitude of charming, somewhat dark paintings of what is best described as a furry-noir Amsterdam-by-way-of-Zootopia. Anthropomorphic animals tend tulip fields, enjoy clog dancing, and take romantic selfies, but also lurk in doorways, bribe officials, discover bodies, and brood menacingly in the 150 or so images that make up the game’s board and deck of cards.
Thematically, the game is a race between teams of private eyes (or as one team against the clock) to solve an unspecified mystery by navigating your team’s pawn to the locations of clues while avoiding locations with police. These locations are marked on a map visible only to each team’s “dispatcher,” whose job it is to give the clues to their teammates.
The dispatcher guides their team by silently handing them cards from a face-up pool of 10, and the team’s job is to figure out from the picture where it is the dispatcher wants them to move. The meat of the game lies in the fact that most of the pictures aren’t really that similar, or alternatively might be equally good/terrible matches to multiple spaces for different reasons. Does the baby raccoon in the stroller match the panicking scientist behind the biohazard door because they both have big eyes? Or does it match the chicken fingers and fries in the cafe because that’s what he’s going to want to eat? Read the rest
Here are some recent game releases of note and some of what I've been up to in hobby gaming over the past month or so.
Android: Shadow of the Beanstalk
Fantasy Flight Games, $60, Players, Ages: 12+
I have been looking forward to this book ever since it was announced by FFG following their retirement of the Netrunner card game, also set in the Android universe. Shadow of the Beanstalk is a 256-page sourcebook for use with the Genesys Roleplaying System. Two years ago, I got to talk to the creators of Genesys at NovaCon before they got scooped up by FFG. Genesys is a GURPS-like universal RPG system that allows you to roleplay any time period, setting, theme. Also like GURPS, it is designed to greatly encourage narrative play and DIY themes and settings. Shadow of the Beanstalk is a campaign setting for the Android universe centered on New Angeles, the city that is home to the beanstalk, the space elevator that has afforded humanity cheap and easy access to space (and has subsequently attracted every megacorp, criminal enterprise, and hacker/"runner" faction). When The Worlds of Android background book came out, many said it was so close to an RPG setting, they ached for the game mechanics to actually play it. These mechanics have arrived with Genesys and Shadow of the Beanstalk.
Fantasy Flight Games, $60, 3-5 Players, Ages: 14+
The classic alien negotiation and conquest game, which many consider one of the greatest board games ever made, is back with a slightly tweaked "42nd anniversary" edition. Read the rest
As we have written about before, the game crafting (or dungeon crafting) scene has exploded over the past few years. There are dozens of websites and YouTube channels devoted to every aspect of making and crafting for the tabletop and RPG gaming hobbies, from building custom gaming tables, to crafting terrain and miniature dungeons, to making DM screens, dice towers, modeling, converting, and painting miniatures, and much more.
One of my maker pals, James Floyd Kelly (a tech book author and long-time Make: contributor), jumped onto the game crafting bandwagon last year when he launched his Game Terrain Engineering YouTube channel. Jim's channel grew very quickly and he has now become one of the rising stars in that community. And with good reason. Jim is ambitious and clever. And relentless. By the end of the year, he had decided to go into producing game crafting media as a full-time job. He relaunched his YT channel as The Tabletop Engineer and announced that he was launching a new monthly magazine devoted to the gaming hobby, especially focusing on game crafting.
Called Bexim's Bazaar, the magazine will be monthly. It will mainly exist as a PDF publication, but on-demand print copies will also be available. The PDF version is yours after you become a Patreon sponsor of The Tabletop Engineer for US$2/month. Print copies of the issues (around 90 pages) are available on Blurb for $18.
In this recent video from Jeremy of Black Magic Craft, he discusses the import of this new hobby zine and does a page-by-page flick-through of a print copy of Issue #1. Read the rest
I really enjoyed these two interviews on the D&D Beyond channel with actors Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood, Daredevil) and Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Justice League, Magic Mike), both D&D fanatics. In Deborah's interview, she talks about how she got started in the hobby, what kind of characters she likes to play (fighters, surprisingly enough), and her thoughts on the current D&D renaissance.
One interesting observation she makes about RPGs as a unique form of acting/theater: When a party saves a character or survives an ordeal, or otherwise experiences a dramatic moment, there's often an intense, visceral response from the players that she says she doesn't experience in any other type of acting. As an actor, she longs to evoke this kind of response in people, so that's one of the things that draws her to D&D.
In the Joe Manganiello video, we get a tour of his E. Gary Gygax Memorial Dungeon (think: MTV Cribs for nerds) and hear about how he got back into the hobby after a long hiatus and how he went about converting his basement wine cellar into this enviable game space. The large dragon, beholder, and mind flayer sculptures are very cool. Joe also talks about the impact that D&D had on him as a kid and how he learned foundational skills in storytelling, world-building, and acting that he later employed as a professional actor. D&D was his gateway drug.
In mid-December of 2018, Geek & Sundry announced a new D&D-themed show, coming in February, starring Deborah Woll. Read the rest
If you have an avid gamer on your holiday gift list, here are some great game gift recommendations for 2018. You can also find plenty of other candidates in the "What's new in tabletop gaming" pieces I posted this year. Also, check out the Boing Boing Toys and Games gift guide for a few additional suggestions.
Game design doyen Martin Wallace is probably best known for railroad and civilization-building games (Age of Steam, Railways of the World, Brass, London, Struggle of Empires). His latest, Wildlands, is a grand and glorious departure. The game, published by Osprey, is gorgeous, easy-to-learn, fun to play, and very replayable, with lots of play choices and tactical depth (and already emerging expansions). Designed for up to 4 players, Wildlands is a card-driven fantasy skirmish board game with 20 beautifully-detailed, primed, and pre-washed miniatures. Four different factions, with different strengths and abilities, attempt to collect “arcane crystals” scattered over one of a two-sided game board. A hand of action cards, with multiple choices on each card, determine what each faction can do on each turn in their quest to vanquish foes and acquire crystals. The mechanics are elegant, the action, relentless and tense. Like last year’s Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, Wildlands is a great way to introduce timid newbies to the world of fantasy miniature gaming and light dungeon delving.
Axis & Allies & Zombies ($33)
If you like Axis & Allies and want to try throwing a wrench (or in this case, hordes of brain-eating undead) into the typical mechanics of the game, then you'll likely find Axis & Allies & Zombies a fun new twist. Read the rest